Fountain pen terms – what’s in a name?

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Fountain pen terms – learn them, throw them around to be taken seriously

So, you are a fountain pen collector, huh? Or maybe, you haven’t made the mark as yet and are, like me, a “wannabe”, someone who dreams of growing up to become one. Or perhaps, you are just a beginner making your first, faltering forays into the exciting world of fountain pens. You are gripped by the excitement – something akin to that of a gamer progressing through the increasing difficulty levels as you slowly toil towards the ultimate “boss fight”.

Just like the world of gamers, fountain pen collection is also about clichés, about terms, and often it is the term, and not the pen (?) that maketh the man, spelling the difference between a “newbie” and a seasoned collector. Naturally, it makes sense to know them as they are thrown about with ceaseless abandon, especially by all those dealers in the net who entice you with the eye-candies, only to way lay you in the labyrinth.

Mind you, knowing the terms in itself, means precious little as you still have to know whether the pen does what it was meant for in the first place – write. Another word of caution, just because you know the term does not mean that the other party (mostly the seller) is not using it “loosely”, that is, without it actually meaning what it is purportedly supposed to mean. “With all faults” is what they push their ware with and it goes without saying that everything you buy, every transaction, unless specifically mentioned otherwise, falls within the time-worn dictum of “Caveat Emptor” (buyers beware).

Fountain pen terms- magna carta

To cut a long story short, I have compiled a few of the terms that you should be aware of, especially when acquiring pre-loved, vintage or antique instruments that are often made to seem more attractive to your hoarding instincts than they actually are:        

  • M “Mint” (uninked). Shows no signs of use. No visible flaws. Naturally, this is the prize that you were waiting for – pat yourself in the back and pick it up. But remember WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get), that is, don’t get overawed by the description, look before you leap.
  • NrM (Near Mint) Possibly dipped or inked. No visible flaws, this one too, is as good as new. Possibly from the collection of someone who had originally bought the pen but was too lazy to have put the nib on paper. Yes, there are guys (and gals) like that too.
  • NOS (New Old Stock). Not dipped or inked but may show signs of shop wear. Retail establishments often stumble across caches that they may have stored and forgotten in the past. These are new pens being brought back from oblivion and because they were forgotten (read left uncared for and untended), may exhibit signs of being shop soiled.
  • ExF Excellent/Outstanding. All parts original and showing only very slight signs of use. No visible defects. This pen is what they refer to as “Collector grade”, that is, worthy of being in the collection of a connoisseur.
  • Exc Excellent. All parts original or replaced with original. Some signs of use, Minimal brassing, or darkening. This may not make it as a piece sought out by a collector, but is surely “User grade” that is to say that it is in fine fettle and can be carried around in your shirt pocket.
  • VG Very Good. Most parts original. Some discoloration and brassing; light or worn imprints; small dings to metal or scratching on plastic. This one is for the lesser mortals – at best graded “Usable” which in plain speak means it is in very good condition. A piece that has retained its charms, use and age notwithstanding.
  • F Fair. Some parts possibly not original; significant brassing or discoloration; very worn or no imprints; with dings and scratches. These are actually very “collectible” pens, more often for the parts which may be deployed to better use – read used to restore and revive as opposed to using them as they are. 
Fountain pen terms - magna carta 3

Now for the extra. Here are a few abbreviations of Fountain pen terms that are often used in the circles, just in case:

  • PIF – Piston Filler
  • GPT – Gold plated trim
  • GFT – Gold filled trim
  • PF – Plunger filler
  • LF – Lever filler
  • ED – Eyedropper
  • BF – Button filler or cap activated
  • AER – Aerometric filler
  • VF – Vacumatic type filler

2 Replies to “Fountain pen terms – what’s in a name?”

  1. Dear Chawm,
    In every field or domain there are jargons and short forms whether it is computer science, engineering, medicine or management which baffle the new comers, who feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to ask what these jargons mean and in the varying contexts. You are aware that there are some who would reply “Oh don’t you know that?” adding to the misery.
    You have done a great job in explaining the meanings and expansions to make a novice or an amateur, in the world of fountain pens, feel at ease and at home with clarity, taking their excitement levels to a fountainhead.
    Kudos to you for a timely, cute and highly educative article to baptise the greenhorns!


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